Oh, the things that you can do…

Is it time to re-brand the River Valley School District?

The River Valley school district is at a critical juncture. The board has taken steps to start closing the elementary schools in our surrounding villages starting with the Lone Rock elementary building in 2017. According to the current plan, the Arena elementary building will be the next to go. Losing these schools will cripple these communities. With declining enrollment, it seems to be only a matter of time before the Plain elementary building could also be closed. Meanwhile 4 and 5 year old children will be spending hours being bussed from the far reaches of the district to the Plain elementary building.

Does the plan to close these ‘outlying’ schools point to efforts to construct a new facility in Spring Green? The figure that has been tossed around for that starts at $80 million, and it will only rise as time goes by. Is the population of the district, especially in light of declining enrollment, able to support that kind of financial commitment.

I would suggest that we are not making the best use of our resources, and not best serving our students and communities.

I would suggest that it is time to create a Vocational and Technical Education Center in the River Valley District, a Rebranding of River Valley Schools.

This outlines a strategy to make the River Valley School District more effective, to make it the ‘school of choice’ when families are considering school choice, to better serve the youth and the entire River Valley community, and to meet the needs of industry in the area.

The face of education is changing and we need to step up to those changes.We need to focus on the future and propose viable alternatives.This will entail having the courage to re-define the vision for the future of the district, to rebrand the district, and the courage to take the steps make it the best that it can be within the current budget.

Currently this district focuses preparing students for college. College is not necessarily the correct or the best choice. Many students cannot, should not or will not go to college. Now, and looking to the future, many jobs that go unfilled do not require a college degree, but focus on vocational and technical skills. Our education system needs to stop demeaning those jobs. These are the jobs that will keep our communities viable and robust. This is where the River Valley School District can be an innovator, can stand out, and can be the ‘school of choice’ for the future.

The first question we have to ask – and answer – is, “What do we want our district to be? What will best serve the River Valley area, both the students and the community? Realistically, we cannot be everything to everyone.

If the goal is to prepare students for college, ideally students who go off to college will bring back knowledge and skills back to the community that will benefit the community and help it grow. Realistically, the River Valley area cannot support this goal, financially or with job opportunities. There is not enough demand to support all of those college degrees so we experience a ‘brain drain’. Those graduates move away, contributing to declining enrollment. The community is underserved because there are not enough people who are trained, educated, and available to meet the demands of the area.

Develop a new vision for the school district. Look at the needs of the surrounding areas. Do we want that vision to be technology based? Will that attract families to settle in the district or use the school choice option to choose the River Valley school district>

Within the limitation of available resources – facilities and budget – develop a plan. This is where districts will face the most opposition and where this process usually fails. Dollars will be moved to where they are the most productive in meeting the goal. This will hurt. Some programs will stay and some will not. Every program and its champions advocating for keeping their program.

Current actions in the River Valley School District focus on shifting students at the elementary level, necessitating building closures and underutilizing the resources in the district. That does not answer the question of what we want the district to be and it may not be the best option for meeting the needs of the students and families in the district.

School districts around the country are developing relationships with community colleges, technical schools, colleges and universities to prepare students to be contributing members of society upon high school graduation.

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